So first things first, I wasn't in love with the first of the series which is why it took me so long to get to book two. Things like the Skill and the Wit are explained a bit better here then they were the first time around. The Skill is basically a type of telepathy that lets certain people speak directly to each other over great distances and influence others to do what you want and actually want to do it. I get it now. The Wit is the Skill but for animals and people are afraid of it. Think Bran Stark in GOT and his warg ability. People hate the Wit and those who use it, and Wit users can be put to death. I never understood why it was bad. Despite everyone in the book, literally everyone, saying it's beast magic and it's just so, so awful... I never understood why. It seems like a really useful skill. Fitz thinks so too. And perhaps this was Hobb's way of showing that Fitz is right when it comes to judging the Wit, but because I still don't understand why everyone hates it, it's hard to even see the other sides point of view as legitimate.
Anyway, this book takes over pretty much right after the events of the first book with Fitz recovering from his near death experience. The book starts with him weak and hurt and it maintains this theme throughout. Hobb loves hurting Fitz. Pretty much every other chapter this kid was getting abused physically or mentally in some way. Which is ok, I abuse my main characters all the time too, but Fitz doesn't always improve or learn after his ordeals. Sometimes he does, but not always. And he's also not the best assassin. Not because he doesn't know how to be stealthy when he poisons you, but because he just doesn't kill all that many people outside of the mindless Forged people or in the confines of battle. Fitz occupation is almost inconsequential to the story outside of a few, and I mean few, instances. So if you want a book focused on assassins, I'd be hard to say that this is that story.
But all of this I forgave because I liked hanging out with Fitz in Buckkeep. I liked him finally using the Wit to get a wolf buddy. I wish they had done more with their relationship and less with Molly and Fitz but oh well. Fitz and Molly's relationship felt very forced at the beginning. There was no courtship, just "we both like each other and then you left but you're back! Let's try again?" There was more "courtship" with Fitz and his wolf bonding so I enjoyed that more and didn't much care when Molly left the story. So if you want a fantasy romance story, this is not that story.
What this story is, is Fitz growing up and turning into his father's son. More a leader than a troublesome bastard. A man people want to follow. A prince who puts his people first and becomes a real pain in evil Regal's side. I really liked that Fitz, the troubled boy who wants a life of his own but knows his duty and knows its bigger than him and must always comes first. That conflict was so genuine and real and I loved it. I loved how Regal went full on crazy in this book, not just doing his underhanded deeds in secrecy but kind of full on in the open. What I didn't like was that only Fitz, Chade, and Kettricken seemed to notice (also, how do you have a name like Kettricken and Molly in the same book? Seems so out of place but oh well). I wanted more people to be on Fitz side rather than Regal but that didn't happen in this book. Which makes some sense because this is supposed to be the lowest point for Fitz and Verity while he's off trying to find the Elderlings (which never really get explained as how or why these things are supposed to be the key to stopping the Raiders). But still, when so few people are against Regal right now, it's just going to make convincing people that Verity is back and the rightful king harder than it needs to be, or harder than I want it to be. Like I said, Fitz gets beat up a lot so I just hoped that something would go his way otherwise I worry he'll commit suicide!
So this book is hard to give a rating to. I liked it more than the first in the series, but it is still a slow read. I had a better grasp on the magic but things like the Elderlings and how Forging happens is still a mystery. Fitz struggle is delicious but the book ends with him having lost almost everything so he has a lot to make up for in the next book. The writing is excellent and Hobb does a great job of showing how easy it is for someone to lose track of who they are when they Skill into someone else. The romance is unsatisfying and the magic system isn't really all that magical so if you want that, you won't get that here. It wasn't a classically exciting or tense story but I liked it and enjoyed the slow build up so I give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars and I'll read the final one when I have more time to sit with Robin Hobb's long ass books!
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!